REVIEW: ‘News of the World’ Strikes a Poignant, Timely Note

Reading Time: 3 minutes

News of the World

In the age of information and the Internet, it’s easy to take awareness for granted. To be informed is more than just a gift and a privilege, but a necessity. In any other year, News of the World may have come and gone passively as yet another historic drama and actor’s piece. However, in 2020 and 2021, News of the World strikes a poignant and timely note on the importance of truth. More importantly, the film illustrates how truth drives us to do better for the world and each other.

News of the World is an adaptation of Paulette Jiles’ popular novel by the same name, directed by Paul Greengrass (the Bourne series). The film stars Tom Hanks and introduces Helena Zengel, who possesses talent far beyond her years.

Set in the former Confederate territories, immediately after the Civil War, News of the World follows former Confederate soldier Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks). Captain Kidd is a gentle soul that abhors violence and feels guilt over his role in the bloodshed. He now makes a modest, but honest living traveling from town to town reading newspapers to the illiterate and in-the-dark townspeople on the far reaches of the frontier. In his travels, Captain Kidd encounters a young German girl that had been stolen by an Indian tribe. With her captor surrogate family gone, she is now an orphan twice over. Kidd resolves to care for her and return her to her surviving relatives. The pair must face the dangers of the frontier, from its hostile landscapes and marauding outlaws to the political clashes of former Confederates and the Union forces occupying the area.

Despite its Civil War setting, News of the World does not dwell too much within the conflict itself. Rather, the Western focuses on both a land and a people that have been through something traumatic and are not sure where to begin healing. It’s an ideological clash that hits a little differently when taking in the film through the lens of 2020. The notes of discord and dissent create an unresolved chord of tension that is just as pronounced in News of the World as its (quite good) score. The tension is so instantly familiar that it hums in your ears.

Tom Hanks is excellent as Captain Kidd, as per usual, and brings a calm stateliness to the role. Hanks gives a performance that is remarkably warm and gentle, a compelling contrast to the harsh landscape. Honestly, the Western genre is an equally harsh environment that often doesn’t leave room for softer male leads. The character of Captain Kidd is refreshing for the genre and a balm for the tired viewer that could stand a break from armed assailants.

Helena Zengel as Johanna/Cicada is absolutely fascinating to watch. Her presence on screen has a solid weight to it, despite her young age and she meets Hanks beat for beat in nuance and maturity. Really well done and definitely a career to watch.

To say that News of the World is a Western about a brave man returning a young girl, reminiscent of The Searchers, is incredibly limiting. The film goes so much deeper than its surface-level plot. The heart and soul of News of the World is that it is a story of broadening one’s perspective during a time of conflict. It is also a testament to the inspiring power of truth and information… and the chaos the is found in lies.

Johanna/Cicada has spent her entire life with the tribe that took her from her parents. Therefore, she has adopted not only their language and culture but an entire way of seeing the universe. As Captain Kidd seeks to help her, he takes the time to try to understand her. They teach each other words and explain their point of view. Against a backdrop of mean-spirited division, this relationship is uplifting and powerful. In addition to their growing understanding of each other, Captain Kidd illustrates the vital nature of truth.

At a pivotal moment in the film, Captain Kidd recognizes that an entire town of people is under the thumb of a hateful and greedy leader. This person urges Kidd to read an alternative version of the news. Caught between a rock and hard place, the Captain does as the dishonest man says but follows up with a news story of workers that rose up against dangerous working conditions and saved themselves. Being informed, really informed, gives us the opportunity to decide for ourselves and take a stand. Those that would attempt to squash the truth and spread lives do so because they know their time is running out. Again, somehow News of the World is a film that is made even better in this current moment.

News of the World is brimming with the grandeur of the Western, given a solid foundation and noble weight through Hanks’ performance and its timely message. Don’t sleep on this one.

News of the World is available in theaters and Premium Video On Demand.

News of the World
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

News of the World is brimming with the grandeur of the Western, given a solid foundation and noble weight through Hanks’ performance and its timely message. Don’t sleep on this one.